QWERTY: Sales Gimmick as Innovation

Quartz: “Welcome to the concept of path dependence. Paul A. David engagingly outlines the idea in his classic article ‘Clio and the Economics of QWERTY,’ first published in 1985 … The way David tells it, the QWERTY keyboard was developed by Christopher Latham Scholes, a Wisconsin printer and tinkerer, who ‘was the fifty-second man to invent the typewriter’ … For six years Scholes struggled with the design, changing the alphabetical key orders this away and that, trying to perfect the typing experience.”

“David notes that finally E. Remington and Sons, the famous arms makers, bought the rights for the machine. Their mechanics adjusted the keyboard so that ‘assembled into one row [were] all the letters which a salesman would need to impress customers, by rapidly pecking out the brand name: TYPE WRITER.’ Yes, friends, it was a sales gimmick. But it wasn’t quite enough, and the economic downturn of the 1870s threatened the machine’s success, as did competitors flooding the market with more efficient and intuitive keyboard setups.”

“Keep in mind that most typewriters were used not by individual consumers but by business firms. These business firms began to train their typists in ‘touch typing,’ based on the QWERTY keyboard. Guess who trained these typists? The Remington Company, of course! Once the typists in the employment market were all trained to touch type on QWERTY, no business wanted to pay to retrain their hired fingers to learn a new system. Thus was QWERTY’s reign established, imprinting its pattern into our fingertips and synapses.”

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Tim Manners/Brand X Ventures | Mar 7th, 2017 | , ,